Research In Motion: Rigor In Mortis?

Jan.25.12 | About: BlackBerry Ltd. (BBRY)

That’s the plan? Do a better job of executing while promoting the same ops guy that led the team to a one year delay in the BB10?

I’m trying to imagine what the share price would have done had the following been announced by Research In Motion (RIMM) Tuesday:

  • Stay the course on the BBX and Playbook, with Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie still at the helm as Co-CEOs

  • Hire a new Chief Marketing Officer

  • Appoint Barb Stymiest as Board Chair

  • Recruit Prem Watsa to join the Board of Directors

The idea of appointing an independent Chair was a fait accompli following last June’s AGM, so no surprise there. Mr. Watsa is well known to the Canadian investment community, and with a 2.5% RIM stake acquired by Fairfax last Fall in the $22-40 share range, he has every reason to be a prime candidate to join the Board; Mr. Watsa’s familiarity with RIM Co-founder Mike Lazaridis likely dates to their membership in the University of Waterloo Chancellors’ club (hat tip RMQ).

The need for a new Chief Marketing Officer was so obvious that Kim Parlee and I even discussed it weeks ago on BNN as an immediate need; throwing sponsorship dollars at TNT so that Marv Albert will mumble “sponsored by Blackberry” during a NBA halftime show isn’t going to get us up off the U.S. market share mat.

Americans know about the BlackBerry; what they need to understand is why they should buy one. Watch how Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) markets the iPad; it might be as simple as showing people what the 9900 can do and they’ll have reason to get one (just as I did last August).

Had the aforementioned “plan” been announced on Monday morning, the stock might have sold off 10% as a result. But, despite the addition of a new CEO to the above list (who one has to assume had been part of most major operational decisions over the past 2 or 3 years), the stock is down about the same amount it would’ve been had Jim and Mike not succumbed to what I assume was the board’s push for a break from the past. What a message Mr. Market is sending the board: Nothing was accomplished.

There was a school of thought that the time had come for a sea change, and the RIM author himself (pere Rod McQueen) suggested some candidates in a blog last December: Proposing John Wetmore, (a RIM director since 2007 and former CEO of IBM Canada) to be CEO and Patrick Spence, (who joined as a co-op student and is now managing director in London) as COO.

I, for one, have long since gotten comfortable with the idea that the guys that brought us to these P/E valuation depths might be able to get us out; or, at least, we might have to rely on that possibility. Rare as it is for the tailspin to be arrested in tech land, I’d back Mike and Jim to try to complete the task… At least if the alternative is merely the second in command taking on a bigger title while Mike and Jim continue to come to work each day.

To Jim’s credit, he made it clear in media interviews Tuesday that the management move had nothing to do with the fact that the stock is down 90% from the highs, and that shareholders were demanding change. Mike and Douig Fregin may be the co-founders of RIM, but Jim (who arrived 8 years after inception and isn’t a co-founder, as the DTM often forgets) gives the company its backbone. Tuesday’s pugilistic approach to the topic was proof; or else evidence of something wild-eyed crazy-like.

Backbone’s what we need right now.

The board may be lacking it, as demonstrated by a seven month process that crushed the stock just the same. And Mike’s role and heart will always be in the lab, regardless of his title. If the 12 month plan is really just “wait and see — we’ll prove everyone wrong”, all we have is our delightfully hard ass, tin ear, multi-focused, micro-managing Jimmy to ensure that the future we’re about to intercept doesn’t look like Palm’s recent past.

Disclosure: I own RIM